Maya Q'eqchi' Land and Resource Rights

The Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala have been fighting for their lands and rights to subsurface resources for more than 40 years, and the Indian Law Resource Center is supporting their efforts.

Plans to reopen and expand a nickel-mining operation on traditional Maya lands have already forced some Q’eqchi’ from their homes and threaten to cause permanent damage to their environment. We are preparing to bring a major case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect the rights of the Maya Q’eqchi’ and shut down the nickel mine. Working with our local partner, Defensoría Q’eqchi’, we have completed a number of studies and legal analyses to prepare the case, and we have taken steps to exhaust domestic legal remedies. We have asked a Civil Court of Appeals in Guatemala for a remedy, but no decision has been made. We expect to file a case in the Inter-American Commission this year.

The creation of “protected areas” poses a second threat to the Maya Q’eqchi’s rights of self-determination and rights to their lands and natural resources. These protected areas—some proposed and some already established—transfer the control and management of lands from the Q’eqchi’ to private/public institutions. We presented this information at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission in March 2008. We have since developed legal arguments to support indigenous control of such protected areas, drawing upon environmental law and human rights law and, most importantly, maintaining an indigenous point of view. We continue to work with the indigenous leaders of these communities to monitor the situation and develop a plan of action.